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Box

  • Place of origin:

    St. Albans (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1130 (made)
    post 1130 (altered)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Walrus ivory with later silver mounts

  • Museum number:

    208-1874

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 6

The imagery and style of the carving has been compared illuminations in the St Albans Psalter and the Bury Bible.
The original function of the box is not known.

The centaur was commonplace in Romanesque art, both as a representation of Sagittarius and as a symbol of moral struggle. In the latter connection the centaur had often been interpreted as standing for the two sides of man, his lower half connected with the baser animal instincts, the upper with his rational, benign nature.

Physical description

Oval box, walrus ivory with (later) silver mounts. On the front of the box are two men seared on lions (or lionesses?), holding scourges and bending backwards to bow to one another. On the other side are two centaurs with drawn bows, aiming away from one another. At each end is a small tree with two branches, one terminating in a flower, the other with a fruit. On the lid are foliage sprays in four compartments, with a plain moulding and a flat rectangular top, now covered with a sivler panel. The silver mounts probably of early 19th century date.

Place of Origin

St. Albans (made)

Date

ca. 1130 (made)
post 1130 (altered)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Walrus ivory with later silver mounts

Dimensions

Height: 7.8 cm including lid, Width: 6.1 cm, Depth: 3.5 cm, Weight: 0.14 kg

Object history note

The imagery and style of the carving has been compared illuminations in the St Albans Psalter and the Bury Bible, so that a date between the execution of these two manuscripts, in around 1130, would seem most likely for the box. Katherine Bateman has attempted to explain the iconography as 'an allegorical statement of man's unending inner struggle, his fight against evil in the human soul', with the centaurs symbolising the two sides of man, those of good and evil, shooting arrows of temptation towards their victims.
from the catalogue for English Romanesque Art 1066-1200, Hayward Gallery London, 1984.
The silver mounts are probably of early 19th century date.
It is likely that the present front of the box was originally the back, due to some holes now filled with wood plugs.

Historical significance: The centaur was commonplace in Romanesque art, both as a representation of Sagittarius and as a symbol of moral struggle. In the latter connection the centaur had often been interpreted as standing for the two sides of man, his lower half connected with the baser animal instincts, the upper with his rational, benign nature.

Historical context note

The original function of the box is not known.

Descriptive line

Box, oval, walrus ivory with (later) silver mounts, decorated with carved figures, lions and centaurs, England (St Albans), ca. 1150

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington, Acquired During the Year 1874, Arranged According to the Dates of Acquisition. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O. p. 16.
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929. Part I. p. 90.
Cf. Swarzenski, H. Monuments of Romanesque Art. 1955. pl. 121. fig. 277. English; c. 1130.
Beckwith, John. A Game of Draughts. In: Martin, Kurt and Soehner, Halldor, eds. Studien zur Geschichte der europäischen Plastik : Festschrift Theodor Müller zum 19. April 1965. München : Hirmer, 1965. pp. 31-36.
Bateman, Katherine. [Ph. D. dissertation] St. Albans: the Ivory and Manuscript Workshop. University of Michigan, 1976. pp. 55-59.
Williamson, Paul. Ivory Carvings in English Treasuries before the Reformation. In: Buckton, David, ed. Studies in medieval art and architecture : presented to Peter Lasko. Dover: Sutton, 1994. P. 193.
Goldschmidt, A. Die Elfenbeinskulpturen aus der romanischen Zeit. XI. Bis XIII. Jahrhundert, (Elfenbeinskulpturen IV), Berlin, 1926 (reprinted, Berlin, 1975), cat. no. 71, pl. XVIII
Beckwith, J. Ivory Carvings in Early Medieval England, London, 1972, p. 74, cat. no. 64, figs. 124-26
Gaborit-Chopin, Danielle. Ivoires du Moyen Age. Fribourg, 1978, pp. 107, 198-99, fig. 151
Williamson, Paul. "Ivory Carvings in English Treasuries Before the Reformation". In: Buckton, David and Heslop, T.A., eds. Studies in Medieval Art and Architecture presented to Peter Lasko. Dover: Sutton, 1994, p. 193
Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 390-3, cat.no. 98

Production Note

silver mounts probably from the ealry 19th century

Materials

Ivory; Silver

Subjects depicted

Arrows; Whips (animal equipment); Centaurs; Bows; Men; Lions

Categories

Sculpture; Containers

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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